Trademark department admits data uploaded without checks The confidential business details of hundreds of companies which challenged trademark applications have been released on a government website that is open for anyone to view and download. Experts say the information, including turnover, profit margins and personal data of staff, would be valuable to commercial rivals and could be exploited by criminals. The Intellectual Property Department set up the online trademark search system to allow people to check whether a trademark has been applied for, opposed or registered. The public can gain access to the data simply by typing in a trademark or a company's name. A search by the Sunday Morning Post turned up information on dozens of firms, including invoices, business registration licences and even copies of employees' passports. The department admitted the information should not have been made public but said such details were on the Web because firms had inadvertently included personal data when filing notices of opposition. The Privacy Commission said it would look into the case. Director of Intellectual Property Stephen Selby said companies intending to oppose a trademark application had to file a notice, which is made public. They may later be required to submit evidence, which is not made public. But some had submitted notices with business information. 'It is normal practice for notices of opposition to be scanned and become available for public inspection. As we do not expect and do not require personal data to be supplied with the notice, we have never issued any warning to the public that all the information they submit with the notice will be available for public inspection,' he said. A department spokeswoman said it could not pull sensitive data from the Web as it had to examine whether it had the legal right to take such action. She also declined to say whether documents were screened before being displayed on the Web. Lawmaker Sin Chung-kai, who represents the information technology sector, accused the department of being 'simply lazy' for not removing personal information before posting it on the internet. 'The department simply receives the information and then posts it right away with no screening in between,' he said. Legal experts said there was no need to have made the data public. They feared the 'administrative loophole' would be exploited by criminals. A trademark agent, who declined to be named, said the confidential data had been appearing since the end of last year. 'Much of this is confidential information. People can read a company's turnover, sales figures and profit margin. They can even make a copy of a firm's business licence and staff ID. This means businesses in the same industry can look at each other's secrets. 'I informed my clients about this and they were just shocked. We have never been told that all this information would be placed online. There are about 100 trademarks cases with disputes every month.' The owner of one company, who found its business registration and operational details disclosed online, said: 'I would not have put up so many materials to the department if I knew about this. This disclosure may damage my business.' A spokeswoman for the privacy commissioner said that when personal data was made publicly available, 'a data user shall be cautious to ensure that only personal data required for fulfilling the purpose of use are disclosed, particularly when sensitive personal data are involved'.